The half-century fight against the stupids is nearing an end.
The Maple Street Book Shop, the renowned Uptown independent bookstore that’s been a destination for well-read New Orleans residents and tourists for a half-century, will close the doors to its shotgun cottage at the end of the year, the store’s owner said Thursday.
“What gradually has happened is technology has changed the way people read and buy books, and our local sales have slacked off over the years,” said Gladin Scott, who bought the business in 2013. “We’ve become more and more dependent on our out-of-town visitors to keep the shop going.”
The bookstore was opened in 1964 by sisters Mary Kellogg and Rhoda Norman. Kellogg’s daughter, Rhoda Faust, took over in 1971 and ran the shop for nearly four decades.
Faust is credited with creating the store’s slogan, “Fight the stupids,” which has become a frequent sight on stickers affixed to bumpers throughout the city.
The store once had separate shops for children’s books, as well as rare and used books. But in 2007, Faust sold the business, and by 2009, the children’s store closed. In 2011, owner Donna Allen opened new locations in the Marigny and Bayou St. John neighborhoods, which she saw as underserved areas.
Scott, who had shopped at the store in high school, began managing it in 2008. He bought it five years later and began consolidating by shutting the two satellite stores and moving the used and rare books into the main store.
“I’d always been interested in the store, and Rhoda Faust and I had talked several times about opening a satellite location together,” he said, “but when she showed me her (financial) books, I never could understand how you could earn a living doing this.”
Scott had little choice but to focus on the main shop, he said, noting that neither location was self-sustaining.
“I knew it was going to be a challenge, because I was going to have to consolidate and downsize immediately,” he said.
A new generation of readers has grown accustomed to buying books with a few clicks on Amazon, which boasts having “Earth’s biggest selection.” Still, as big-box book retailers like Borders or Barnes & Noble have gone out of business or retrenched from brick-and-mortar storefronts, some small independent bookstores have benefited.
Nationwide, independent bookstores have increased their ranks by 27 percent since 2009, according to recent data from the American Booksellers Association. Elsewhere in New Orleans, there are several independent stores with strong followings, such as Faulkner House Books in the French Quarter and Octavia Books in Uptown.
At Maple Street, business was brisk following Hurricane Katrina, as the shop rode a wave of support from residents who were eager to shop locally. But that fell off by 2007, and sales slid about 30 percent, Scott said. The shop has run at a loss ever since.
Through the years, the shop has developed a loyal following, he said, and it draws many travelers who are, in some cases, former residents wanting to visit to reminisce or show their children an old haunt.
Before becoming the manager, Scott’s career was in the video rental business, bringing movies to independent stores. But the Internet disrupted that, too.
“I came to the store thinking it would be my retirement job and just got way too involved in the business,” he said.
For now, he plans to run the store “at full steam” through the end of the year. Whatever’s left of the thousands of books now on the shelves will be sent back to publishers or donated, he said.
“It’s something that I think not only for me, but everyone who works here. It’s been a real labor of love,” he said.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.